Practices for high school football across the state begin on Thursday, when teams will begin the official 22-day countdown to their first games of the 2013 season on Aug. 23.
How teams fare during their conference schedules will determine how many games they play in November or December. But trends start during the nonconference portions of every team’s season.
This year, thanks to realignment – done every five years by the NCHSAA to adjust for schools’ growth – those nonconference slates have a very different look for almost every area team.
There are more “rivalry” games early in the season, with five Johnston County teams moving into new conferences. Former late October or early November staples like Clayton vs. Smithfield-Selma and Corinth Holders vs. North Johnston will now come in the first month of the season.
There are a number of new “marque” games as well; two of those feature Cleveland, which takes on nearby schools Clayton and Garner in back-to-back weeks for the first time.
Garner has added its old rival back on the schedule in Cary, while Southeast Raleigh heads to South Carolina for a marque game on Labor Day Weekend.
The conference portion of the season begins Sept. 27 for the Carolina 1A and the Greater Neuse River 4A, and Oct. 11 for the Two Rivers 3A and the Eastern Plans 2A. Once that begins, Cleveland and Corinth Holders will both meet Smithfield-Selma for the first time on the field. Corinth Holders adds its first meeting with South Johnston as well.
But for now, the focus is on the nonconference portion. Here’s a look at each area’s teams early season schedule.
The Pirates’ schedule features a mix of the old 2A schools and new 3A foes early on, with Northern Nash coming to Pirate land to open the season a week before rival Clayton does the same. Corinth Holders plays its third of five Johnston County opponents this season when it visits North Johnston on Sept. 6. It then takes on old Northern Carolina 2A foe Bunn. The Pirates meet 3A Aycock before visiting another former conference member in Franklinton to close out their nonconference slate on Oct. 4.
North will be on the road a lot when Eastern Plains 2A Conference play starts in October; the same can be said for its nonconference slate.
The Panthers open with road trips to former conference rivals Louisburg and Bunn back-to-back, then hosts another former league foe in Corinth Holders on Sept. 6.
The old rivalry with Princeton gets its 2013 edition on Sept. 13; then the Panthers visit Lakewood (Sept. 20) and North Lenoir (Sept. 27) in back-to-back weeks.
The Bulldogs follow up their run to the 1A eastern regional championship game with back-to-back home games to open the season. East Carteret is their first opponent, followed by a visit from Midway.
Princeton makes the long trip down the coast to Holly Ridge Dixon to begin its September schedule. The Bulldogs then hosts Clinton Union before beginning Carolina 1A Conference play on Sept. 27.
The Spartans’ quest for their first win since the 2010 season begins against former Greater Neuse River 4A Conference foe West Johnston on Aug. 23 in Tucker Stadium. That contest is followed with a visit to fellow 3A squad Southern Wayne on Labor Day weekend.
Middle Creek, one of the top 20 rated 4A teams in state, comes to Smithfield on Sept. 6.
That’s followed up by the Spartans’ first nonconference meeting with Clayton since 1996, which comes in Clayton on Sept. 13.
Wilson Fike visits Smithfield-Selma the next week before the Spartans go to Northern Nash to close out their nonconference slate.
The Trojans open the season with an interesting trip to East Wake to take on the 4A Warriors, then stick around Johnston County for two weeks. South visits West Johnston on Aug. 30, then hosts Clayton a week later.
The Trojans go to Red Springs on Sept. 13 to meet a 1A club that went 10-4 a season ago. Cape Fear comes in on Sept. 20.
The Mule Days Bowl for 2013 – to be played on Thursday, Sept. 26 – features Wilson Fike visiting the Trojans.
West Johnston stays inside of the Johnston County borders for the first three weeks of its season under new head coach Jimmy Williams. They have a trip to old conference rival Smithfield-Selma on Aug. 23, then home dates against South Johnston and Cleveland. The Wildcats hit the road for the next two weeks against Fuquay-Varina and Hope Mills South View.
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